The burger: Timing is everything, right? An impressive-in-every-way burger is hovering in blink-or-you'll-miss-it mode.
Find it at the bar at Homage, the back-to-the-1990s pop-up that the Travail Collective is staging — in collaboration with chef Doug Flicker — at the former home of Flicker’s much-missed Auriga, on Lowry Hill in Minneapolis.
But act quickly. The pop-up, one of a series of food fests that Team Travail is conducting while a new home for its Travail Kitchen and Amusements is under construction in downtown Robbinsdale, comes to a close on June 15. And then this brazenly rich (seriously, it should be served with a Lipitor chaser) beauty, scrupulously layered with an ingenious array of flavor-boosting and calorie-walloping components, will disappear.
Like the rest of the Homage menu, the burger is a contemporary twist on 1990s cooking.
“It’s basically a throwback to the burgers where you could get major upgrades,” said Mike Brown, one of Travail’s three chef/owners. “You know, it’s like, ‘Do you want blue cheese?’ ‘Do you want bacon?’ ‘Do you want caramelized onions?’”
For the Travalians, a group famous for fashioning excess into an art form, the proper response to all is, “Yes.”
The patty — oh, man, that patty — starts with chuck that’s enriched with ultra-lux scraps of the kitchen’s Wagyu beef. Other add-ons include beef fat and a few aromatics: shallots, garlic and thyme.
Larger than a slider but not as big as, say, a quarter-pounder, the thick-ish, ultra-juicy patties are seared on a flat top stove, and then the kitchen really gets going.
Blue cheese adds an unexpected — and welcome — funkiness. It’s presented in what’s basically a fondue, a recipe that Brown learned how to make back during his tenure in the Porter & Frye kitchen.
“It was a total '90s thing that crept into the 2000s,” he said with a laugh.
The sweetly mellow caramelized onions are finely chopped; the effect is almost purée-like. A generous slice of American cheese performs a double duty: it adds creaminess, but as it melts it also serves as a tucked-in blanket, securing the coarsely chopped bacon in place on the top of the patty.
“We didn’t want people pulling long bacon strips out with the first bite,” said Brown. “That’s always one of those things that’s problematic with a bacon burger.”
Thin, wonderfully crunchy icebox pickles add just the right acidic touch. The sturdy, milk-enriched, sesame-studded bun is baked on the premises by pastry chef Alex Altoff, using a formula perfected at the restaurant several years ago.
“I’ve heard from many people that it’s one of the best burgers that we’ve ever served,” said Brown. Having sampled more than a few of them, I have to agree.
(Faithful readers of Burger Friday might wonder how my photography skills have drastically improved. They haven’t. The beautiful image, above, is the work of my pal Courtney Perry, and she has my gratitude).
Post-Homage, Brown and his colleagues Bob Gerken and James Winberg are launching their third and final concept at their “Minneapolis Residency.” They’re calling it Kua: Modern Mexican (Kua is the Aztec word for devour), and its Mexican-inspired tasting menu is in collaboration with chef Gustavo Romero. As with Homage, the Kua bar will also feature an a la carte bar menu, and it will also include a burger.
“It’s going to be more of a torta than a burger,” said Brown. “It’s going to be the bomb.”
Fries: Not included. But it’s worth shelling out $7 for an order of the “Flicker Fries,” a basket of prodigiously crispy and generously seasoned fries, served with a house-made Thousand Island dressing. And while you’re at it, go for the fabulous polenta-scrambled eggs combo ($9), which couldn’t look more 1998 (the creamy polenta is baked in a timbale mold) or be more delicious.
Where he burgers: “One of the best burgers that I’ve had lately is at Marna’s Cafe,” said Brown. “It’s the restaurant that’s next door to the old Pig [Ate My Pizza, the Collective's casual component that just moved into a new home down the block, in the former Travail Kitchen and Amusements space], and they’re expanding into the old Pig space. They put on a burger about a month and a half ago, and it’s one of the best things on the menu, which is straight-up Costa Rican food. His [chef/owner Rolando Diaz] food is legit. With this burger, he puts Costa Rican flavors into the meat. It’s got a little bacon, and a little grilled pineapple. It’s so good. I’ve been trying to stay away from eating it more than once a week, because when anyone says, ‘Hey, where should we go eat lunch?’ I want to get that burger.”
Address book: 1930 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls., 763-535-1131. Open for dinner Wednesday through Saturday. Homage concludes on June 15. Kua begins June 21. Valet parking $10.
Metro Transit: Routes 2, 6, 12 and 114.
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